Snapshot: No small feat – Getting a driver’s license!

In the USA there are never-ending jokes about the long lines at the DMV (department of motor vehicles). Let it be known right now that NOTHING compares to the incredible (hassle) “experience” of getting a license here in Niger!

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We have used our temporary International Driver’s licenses since arrival, but the police – who pull people over often to check paperwork – do not like those…they want us to have the real license of Niger. Unfortunately, the process is entirely complicated! And recently they added even more requirements to the process, making it nearly impossible to acquire a Niger driver’s license.

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When we first lived here in 2012 – 2013 it took us nearly 8 months to obtain the Niger driver’s license, but when we left the country we had to turn it back in to the government (in order to receive back our USA licenses). When we returned in January 2017 we requested that they “find them” in the hopes that we wouldn’t have to go through the process again. Initially, they didn’t find them. Ugh! But last week – eight months later! – we received the good news that the old licenses had been found! Hooray!

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So here we are celebrating – with our colleague whose name is Constant. (He truly was thrilled about this “find” but we couldn’t get him to smile for the picture.)

We are thankful for every victory we experience here, and we have learned to take nothing for granted.

 

Snapshot: Do You See What I See?

Driving in Niamey is quite an adventure. I often say that I wish my eyes were cameras because everywhere I look there is something unusual or interesting to see, and I want to capture it all! I just went through my photos that I’ve taken since our arrival in January, to give you a glimpse of what we see each day.

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Cattle. Let me remind you, friends, that this is the capital city of Niger!

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You might be thinking – Oh! A handy place to buy liquor on the side of the road! Nope. These bottles are full of gasoline. Carts like this are everywhere along the roads.


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Yes – billboards! This one is funny because it is advertising a rich drink that people should enjoy during the month of Ramadan. There are many advertisements that make us all laugh because they depict a life that is so far from the realities of life in Niger – people in normal western-styled clothes with American-style houses, etc. I often wonder who makes these decisions?


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I’m not usually fast enough to catch photos of the many sights of what people are carrying on their motorcycles. Animals, rebar (long metal poles for construction), entire families, large wooden doors…the possibilities are endless! Here is a lady with her baby on her back simply wrapped with a cloth. At least she is wearing a helmet!


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Construction! But the techniques here might make you cringe. I personally have two uncles whom I know would take an interest – yikes! – in the scaffolding used to build these buildings too!


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I took this photo last week – it is a coming dust storm! This is a main road here, and I was stuck in traffic as the storm approached.

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Ruth took this out the side window! Besides the storm, you can see lots of garbage –  little black plastic bags and other garbage is everywhere, unfortunately.


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Crossing the Niamey bridge you can see the many people washing their clothes and drying them in the sun. (Warning: hippos lurk in these waters so it is a risky business!)

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I took this photo is 2013 – but you can see the hippos are RIGHT THERE next the bridge and the city!


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Shops. Here is Andy leaving one of our local shops we frequent. This one specializes in electronic stuff, garden stuff, cords, and the like. These small “shacks” are everywhere. Part of our cultural adjustment is simply learning where these shacks are located and what they each specialize in.

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This is a Tailor’s shop (One of our photos from 2013).


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This is not the best picture of a bush taxi, but I remember this one because I thought for sure it was going to tip over! I have MANY pictures of these little vans stuffed with people and their belongings.

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I took this one in 2012 – we were traveling to the Eastern part of Niger. How about those roads!?


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Camels! It is still so interesting to see these animals around the city!

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I know I left out so many things. Goats and sheep roaming everywhere. Chickens. Beautiful people walking and talking. Children playing. LIFE.

Thanks for walking through these roads with us. Hopefully now you have a little better picture in your mind of what we see every day. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshot: Rain!

This snapshot is for all you farmers out there – who truly understand the dependence upon God for your livelihood. (Love you Big Jim & Judy K!)

As you already know if you’ve been on this journey with us, Niger is one of the most undeveloped countries in the world. The government here has declared that a famine is in full swing. The economy is in awful shape, but some things simply continue as they have forever – the fields.

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Fields in Niamey behind Sahel Academy, where our kids go to school.

This country produces mostly millet and sorghum, but there are actually all kinds of things being grown here. I personally enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every time I head to the market.

But here is the catch – they MUST have adequate rain. You see, there aren’t all of the fancy irrigation techniques and technology here. They don’t have damns on the Niger river to save water and disperse it where they like. They do things the old-fashioned way – they wait.

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I took this photo in 2013 – here is a family living along the Niger River. They have easy access to water. But without modern irrigation methods, anyone living away from the river must wait for water the old-fashioned way – from the sky.

Right now, in the middle of hot season, everyone talks and dreams and aches for rain. The farmers want to get out there and plant but they must wait for the first big rain to be sure they won’t lose their seeds to the intense heat. I learned that it must rain again within two weeks of the first planting in order to have a crop…otherwise the seeds simply won’t survive.

In the Pacific Northwest, where I am from, hardly three days pass by without some moisture falling from the sky! Since we arrived here in January it has officially rained two times! TWO!

Here is a description from World Vision’s “water matters” website:

“Niger is one of the hottest, driest places in the world. Average temperatures are around 30 degrees C, but are capable of reaching over 50 degrees C in the hot season, between March and June. The air is so hot during these months that rain evaporates before it hits the ground. December through to February are cooler months and the temperature can actually drop to freezing in the night-time desert. The harmattan winds usually arrive just before the rains. They create dust storms that can cut visibility down to almost nothing. The rainy season comes to the southern parts of the country in late May to September, although rainfall is often unreliable.”

Two weeks ago we unexpectedly had our first really big rain! It came early, though. So I hear that some farmers took the gamble and planted their seeds in hope for more rain. Some didn’t. It hasn’t rained in Niamey since that day. What will this mean for those farmers?

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My dear friend Enseoung Kim, who is a missionary from Korea, took this photo when it rained two weeks ago.

When the rain starts falling – (often after a horrendous dust storm!) – the relief and excitement in the city is tangible! After our recent rain two weeks ago, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and there was a fresh, revitalizing breeze. I know loads of friends whose children ran outside to  jump around in it!

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Here are some children of missionary friends who knew just how to enjoy the rain! (Our kids haven’t lived here long enough, they just stayed in bed.) Photo credit: Chantelle McIver

It’s a veritable rain party!

Honestly, can my friends in Washington State even IMAGINE? A rain party!

I borrowed these photos of a Niamey dust storm so you could see what that is like. I am usually hiding inside a building making sure the windows are shut when this happens – NOT taking pictures!

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The dust storm arriving before the rain – hurry and get the laundry off the line! Photo credit: Ruth Wong

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It is so normal that the people are just walking ! Photo credit: Ruth Wong

Voila! Thanks for taking a look at this snapshot. Now, pray with me for an excellent rainy season here in Niger.

To learn more about the rain here, check out these links:

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4547

http://www.our-africa.org/niger/climate-agriculture

http://www.watermatters.worldvision.org.nz/sections/abidasWorld/country/geography.aspx

This is a link to the facts page for kids – learning about Niger from World Vision.

http://watermatters.worldvision.org.nz/sections/abidasWorld/country/  

 

 

 

Snapshot: A New Way to Buy Clothes

Back home I enjoy shopping for clothing treasures at Goodwill or Value Village, though my absolute favorite store is Eddie Bauer. Buying clothes here in Niamey is not as simple (since there aren’t any clothing stores like that), but the clothes are certainly more lovely! The clothes for women here in Niger are absolutely unique and beautiful. Driving down the road, it is a very real distraction to notice the stunning, flowing fabric of a woman’s dress as she walks along the road. For me, the goal is to be approachable for the  people here, to be culturally appropriate and break down as many “walls” as possible. I’m going to share the process with you here, though I regret my photography isn’t the best – sorry!

 

Here is how it works: First I must go to the market and buy some fabric.

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As you can see, there are SO MANY CHOICES! It takes awhile to sort through it all. A sweet woman will help unfold the fabric so I can stand back and really see it in full.

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This shop is usually full of people. The owner is a very friendly man who greets me with a wide smile and the traditional french phrases. I make my choice finally, but that is only the beginning! Now I must decide what style to have made. I like to borrow one from a friend to use as a “modèle” for the tailor.

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I found this tailor through my missionary friend (thanks Becky!).

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I bring my fabric and the modèle to his little shop. Then he will take my measurements (since the modèle is in my friend’s size!).

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Then, after making a negotiation for the price and finalizing the date for pick-up, I’m on my way! I’ll be back within a week or less to pick up my lovely outfit. I may need to make some minor adjustments, but the final result is really special.

Here are a few pictures to show some outfits that Ruth and I have had made since we’ve arrived in January…

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As you can see, this isn’t the quick option we have in the USA, but I enjoy it. Our language tutor told me recently that Nigeriens see a westerner in african clothes and it immediately has a warming effect, making them more approachable. They appreciate the modesty and effort to adapt to their culture in this way.

I’m curious… what’s YOUR favorite store?

 

To Market! To Market! To Buy…Mangoes!

We recently heard from our language tutor that Niger has declared that they are experiencing a famine. But we really don’t experience the effects of this in the city of Niamey. The people in villages may be struggling to survive, while the city (where we live) has food. This reality is difficult to understand, but nevertheless our family is not suffering for food.

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Being mindful of this, one highlight for me is being able to buy local fruit, vegetables and eggs at the market. There are many roadside stands to choose from, but we have a particular stand that we prefer. It is a little off the beaten path, but we can find all of our “fresh things” we need there. Now that we are familiar, the vendor seems to know what we like and goes out of his way to keep us happy. I like to ask where the fruit is from, and buy what is grown in Niger whenever possible. Let’s keep this economy moving, I like to think to myself, one grapefruit at a time! 

Right now – it is mango season.

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Look at all these mangoes!!!!

Try not to be jealous, but right now I can buy a kilo of mangoes (that’s about 3-4 of these beautiful mangoes) for 500 cfa = which is a little less than one American dollar!

Yum! Now I need some creative ways to eat them…recipes anyone?

Thinking About Communication & Learning Things the Hard Way

Communication is one of the things I think about a lot. And, now that we are on the other side of the planet from so many people I love dearly, I think about communication now more than ever!

I’ll be honest, thinking about this has given me stress since our arrival. I find myself wanting to write letters and share little tidbits throughout each week, though I don’t have any real method or order to do it, or even the time for it! For someone like me who strongly believes in the importance of communication in relationships, this “stress” is a very real battle! I realize we must fully invest our lives here, but I cannot ignore this inner urge to stay connected.

So, I have an idea to help me follow through. I simply needed a plan. I hope it will be a blessing to you – those who read this blog and our email updates, and who choose to follow our ministry here. And I also hope this will help me satisfy my desire to connect our lives here with the world we left behind.

My plan: I’d like to share here on this blog short “snapshots” of little things we see or learn here, without the pressure to write an entire blog article. This will be short and sweet, with photos and insights gained while living everyday life here in West Africa.

Without further ado – here is a quick look at something we “tried” last week: Hosting a dinner with a Tuareg family!

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This family lives right outside our front door, within our small walled compound. The mother and daughter do not speak French and the father only speaks a little bit of French. This has made our “co-habitation” somewhat challenging. But we wanted to extend our friendship to them by hosting a meal.

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We asked a few questions of a missionary friend here who works with the Tuareg people and we followed the advice. Invite them to our terrace (instead of inside at the table), men on one mat, women on the other. Simple food. Voila!

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Ruth and I shared some pens and paper to draw pictures and identify things in English, French and Tamajaq languages. Amie (the wife) wrote our names in Tamajaq, and she gave Ruth and I small beaded bracelets as gifts! Meanwhile Andy was trying to speak with Shorib (the husband) in French.

Here’s the funny thing – they hardly ate anything! Seriously, I wondered if I had done something wrong…here I had made plenty, and the food was simple enough (chicken peanut sauce with rice) but they just hardly ate more than five bites! It was so unexpected!

Upon investigation afterwards, what might have happened – according our local friends – is that the Tuareg are private and do not like eating in front of people. So until they are completely free and comfortable with people, they do not like to eat in front of them. What we could have done, then, is give them a large platter of food to take back to their shelter to eat privately. The other theory is that they simply did not like the food! And in this culture, apparently, it is completely acceptable to just not eat what is served.

Who knew? I guess sometimes you just have to learn things by stepping out and trying!

 

 

Dear Nathaniel, Jonathan and Ruth…

The holidays give me a chance to think a lot about the many blessings in my life. Usually this brings me to tears just thinking about my family – my incredible parents, my selfless husband and my beautiful kids. Oh those kids… how do they put up with me? With us? With our crazy life? Yet they do it. They follow our lead as we are missionaries living a very un-american lifestyle. Yes, they sometimes complain, but mostly they are courageous and have great attitudes.

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L to R: Jonathan, Ruth, Nathaniel (2011)

Grays 2014 (24 of 37)

(2014)

Recently the leader of our mission (SIM) wrote a letter to the children of missionaries (Missionary Kids, or “MK’s”) in honor of our mission’s Founder’s Day. For those who are walking with us on this journey, I really want to share it with you. Many of you are praying for our kids. You are truly concerned for them and you ask about them more than anything else! I get it. And I love this about you! Thank you for loving them and for caring about them like you do.

I am sharing part of this letter with you here because I think you will appreciate it. We are honored to serve with SIM because this is the heart of our leadership. I hope you know that we agree with  you, with our mission’s International Director (Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko), and we strive to honor our kids as we follow this calling.

[For the complete letter, click on this link: letter-to-sim-mks_2016foundersday]

From Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko, SIM International Director:

     This letter is for you if you are a child of missionaries past or present, from any of the missions which flowed into SIM over the years, whether your parents served during your adulthood or childhood, and for any duration of service. This year’s thanksgiving, celebration and prayers is for you. Your personal contribution to the making of disciples, indeed, to the emergence and growth of the church in all corners of the world, is as incalculable as it is invisible.

      Therefore, on this Founders’ Day, the SIM worldwide community is pausing to affirm and acknowledge the remarkable role you have played. We celebrate and give thanks for you. Perhaps you have not been privileged to glimpse the result of your parents’ work, to experience the joy of seeing the fruit of their labour. I assure you that their labour and your sacrifice have never been in vain. That I am the one sending this letter to you gives testimony to that fact. I committed my life to Christ while attending a mission school established by SIM, where I was discipled by a missionary. As a product of SIM ministry over many years, and now not only serving in SIM but leading SIM globally, you can rejoice that your contribution and your experiences have never been in vain. Christ has the victory. I, and millions of others like me, bear testimony to this victory. Because of you and your family, many more, like myself, can understand God’s good news. Thank you.

      You were born into a family that, in the course of your life, carried the gospel to others, and this necessitated personal sacrifice, which I acknowledge by this letter. We celebrate with gratitude your service alongside your parents. Often the focus of mission work is on your parents and their cross-cultural ministry. However, at times you bore the weight of the calling of God on your parents’ lives; thus you have made sacrifices that may have gone unacknowledged by anyone. All children are impacted by their parents’ vocation, whether in missions or not. Yet the impact of a missionary vocation on a family is unique. We acknowledge your own commitment and contributions to the work that was done or is being done by your parents. Perhaps you were active in the work in tangible ways, or you accepted situations into which you were entrusted that allowed your parents to do their work. You may be one who has experienced suffering or adversity, perhaps from separation from your parents at an early age. Some have had close encounters with diseases, natural disasters, civil unrest, or other hazards.

       We acknowledge the price that you may have paid so that the gospel of Christ’s saving grace can be preached to a dying world. We celebrate your victories. While growing up in cultures that were not your parents’, many have gone on to use those experiences as stepping stones to greater things. Many of you have achieved remarkable things for yourselves, your families, your communities, for the church and for the gospel. For some, growing up in another culture was not always positive; for others, it is one of the greatest gifts from their parents. I hope this is your experience, and even if not, I am thankful that you are still with us to see the result. We celebrate your accomplishments and the accomplishments of MKs all over the world.”

So, thank you for loving our kids with us! I am deeply thankful for you!

Here are some pictures of our own kids over the years….

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(2012)

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(2013)

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(2012)

 

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(2012)

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(2012)

 

Parlez-vous Francais?

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We are 2/3 finished with our one year French study program. With one class to go, we still feel quite deficient, yet we are told by our professors that we are doing well and “right on time” with our learning. Our brains are FULL of information – grammar, vocabulary, conjugations, idiomatic phrases – and now it needs to begin to flow out of our mouths!

Practice. Practice. Practice.

With that said, we thought some of our family and friends who are on this journey with us would fancy a peek into our world a bit with this…so here are some video links to watch us speak french. These are NOT impressive. In truth they are pretty embarrassing, but like I said they are a glimpse. Our whole family gave presentations at the end of July and we recorded them here. So…Enjoy!

Nathaniel – “Les Sports” (5:17 min) The Sports

Jonathan – “Les Animaux” (3:13 min) The Animals

Ruth – “La Petite Sirène” (2.39 min) The Little Mermaid

[The kids spent the month of July with a tutor, working individually on their french. These presentations were given to a small group in our classroom.]

Andrew – Presentation given for part of our class final (10:38 min)

[Andy’s topic was to share a story about a refugee couple who settled in Canada.]

Nikki – Presentation given for part of our class final (6:11 min)

[Nikki’s topic was to summarize the impact of bees on agriculture and how their decline is affecting Canada.]

Well, all of this is a bit unsettling…I feel quite vulnerable sharing these! But, then again, this whole entire process of learning a new language as an adult is utterly humbling.

We read children’s books.

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We babble like children.

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And one older gentleman who has watched many people learn this language, warned us right away that we would “look and feel as ridiculous as grown-ups trying to ride a big wheel”.

great-big-wheel-race-nyc(photo credit: Nifty NYC)

Therefore, I will share these with you dear friends and family, knowing full well that you also have your own priceless – oftentimes humbling! – treasures of “growing pains” in your life.

Let’s all enjoy the ride together!

 

My Heart Marches Ahead of Me: Playing Catch-up

Andy and I will soon be 45 and 44 years old, and have been married 19+ years.  In the early days of our marriage, we dreamed of many things for our lives – serving God together by owning a coffee shop, serving God together as college campus ministers, serving God together on a church staff, and also serving God together as international missionaries.

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We have now done all of these things – minus the coffee shop dream, (though we still love coffee and coffee shops so maybe there is a future in that one yet?)

“Serving God together” has been the steady common denominator. On our wedding day we asked Andy’s brother and his wife to sing the song “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” – this was, and still is, our heart beat!

Here we are now in Sherbrooke, Quebec (Canada). Two months already! We have experienced lots of French language study, meeting new people, navigating a new city, finding a church, grocery store, and establishing daily patterns.

And though we feel confident that God has led us, and that this is another dream-come-true, one that aligns with our heart beat – IT HAS BEEN SO VERY HARD. This surprised me a bit, I have to admit.

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God has captured my heart, so I gladly accept the idea of sacrifice and serving others and living overseas and giving my life away. Because it’s God’s heart! And I love to do what God loves for me to do. This (somewhat) brave heart of mine has leaped forward and embraced this calling to live in Niger, and all of the sacrifices that come along with it.

Which seems to cause problems for the rest of me – my body, mind and emotions. (Thank you very much, oh heart of mine!)

You see, we set out for this year in Canada and even dubbed it “the year of sacrifice” for our family. (I know, rather audacious…but we were trying to prepare ourselves!) The five of us understood this to mean we were entering into a designated time of trial – language acquisition by immersion, leaving all things familiar and beloved, and only dipping into the culture here for one year before a more settled life could happen in Niger. This was our “planned sacrifice”, so to speak.

Now that we are here, it is comical to think we could prepare for all that “sacrifice” even means! Andy said to me the other day, after we had dealt with an unexpected difficulty, “You know Nik, we don’t even know what it means to sacrifice.” Ouch. I mean, I feel like I have given up A LOT to walk this road. Comfort, safety, family & friends being nearby, financial control, to name just a few things. I know how to sacrifice! Right?

But I don’t. Not really. I read recently from Oswald Chambers that in our human nature “we want to choose the place of our own sacrifice.” Like a Christianity buffet – “I’ll take this difficulty and that trial, and a little bit of suffering, but I don’t like the way this painful experience looks, so I’ll just pass for now”. We like to control our lives.

In some ways it is beautifully innocent! We follow our hearts and the convictions we have, but then we naturally feel “upset” and “surprised” when God allows unexpected sacrifices to mingle in with our choices. But how could we have known? There is no way to fully anticipate everything, and I don’t believe God wants us to think that far ahead anyway. This is the human experience. This is how trust is built.

So, here we are. And the “rest of me” – my body, mind and emotions – are playing catch-up to this brave heart of mine! “Wait for me, oh brave heart!” There are challenges we have faced already that we didn’t expect. The biggest one has been walking with our kids through really, really hard stuff because of moving and living in a foreign culture. I view being a missionary as a great honor, yet they are old enough to know what they left behind, and the cost of following Jesus as foreign missionaries affects them uniquely and personally. Understanding this through their tear-filled eyes, and asking them to keep going, has been a personal sacrifice I didn’t see coming.

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2014 kids

boys with Chistiansons

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There is good news in all of this! [I promise I didn’t chronicle this aspect of my journey to receive pity] On the contrary, I know I am learning priceless pearls of truth. More accurately, the Truth I have known in God’s Word is becoming more real to me through our experience. I’m clinging to my Savior with more conviction than ever before, and I feel His sweet Presence and friendship daily. He answers me when I call, and His peace truly is my inheritance.

Hebrews 12:1-3   

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

James 1 4